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Reiner Schulz (2005)

Population and Environment*

In: Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Vol. 30, 1/2005, p. 111-129, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ISSN: 0340-2398

This article explores the question of the degree to which demographic trends lead to environmental impairment. There is a very wide range of answers to the question of the nature of damage to the environment. The definition depends on time and space, and in contrast to a fundamentalist position which considers any change to Nature to be damaging, it is very difficult to specify because potential damage in many cases is difficult to recognize and measure, and clear demonstrations of cause-and-effect are even more difficult to provide. Almost all economic activities affect the environment. Changes to the environment however have winners and losers in the realms of animals and plants in flora and fauna, and consequently one should only speak of environmental damage if the ability of the environment to reproduce itself is impaired (here we speak of “sustainability”). Assessment of this one point alone leaves sufficient scope for subjectivity, and the assessment depends not lastly on whether the judging person is a beneficiary of the environmentally-damaging activity, for instance if it ensures their survival or their job. As a result, the number of people has only minor significance in terms of environmental damage. What is more decisive are their consumption patterns, which is typified by the amount of income and assets, and which influences methods of production, which can be more or less environmentally-friendly. Considerable impairment of the environment entails both extremes: Absolute poverty and absolute affluence. Absolute poverty leads out of a lack of alternatives for survival to thoughtless exploitation of the environment. Affluence can have comparable environmental effects if it leads to considerable demand for goods and services whose production is damaging to the environment.

* Original title: Bevölkerung und Umwelt (full text in German only)

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